Chicago singer/bandleader Jennifer Hall‘s absolutely brilliant ep is streaming at Spotify. Part art-rock, part oldschool soul, it’s like nothing that’s been released in recent months. Here and there, Abby Travis comes to mind, but Hall is more influenced by vintage soul music, and where Travis gets balmy and Lynchian, Hall goes for gale-force impact. She’s at the big room at the Rockwood tonight, July 30 at 7 PM.
The ep opens with the dynamically rich Would You Walk Away, veering between airy minimalism and a soaring soul ballad as Jeff Lynne might have orchestrated it, with elegant instrumentation from Noam Wallenberg on guitars, Ben Joseph on keys and bass and Mat Roberts on drums. When Hall wails “I will be fading below the lamplight,” it’ll give you chills. The glimmering, propulsive ELO anthemics continue on the gorgeously arranged Beverly Road – as Hall explains, it’s a locale of the mind rather than either the one in Brooklyn (with the extra E) or the one in her hometown.
Time of Death opens as an enigmatic, psychedelically-tinged trip-hop tune and turns into a launching pad for some of Hall’s most intense, emphatic vocal pyrotechnics here. When I Went Falling has the synth (or is that a guitar effect?) doing a pizzicato string arrangement, working a spiky/lush dichotomy as Hall’s voice dances overhead. Make It Out Alive has a dramatic post-new wave pulse in the same vein as the Motels: the title is the mantra. The final track is Waking Hour, a surreallistically crescendoing breakup tableau that sounds the alarm about “Buckets full of fickle warning, of fallen victims of that fire.” What a great discovery, and what a breath of fresh air Hall is. There are a gazillion women out there singing music influenced by oldschool soul sounds, some of them very good, but no one more original than Hall. Let’s hope she comes to town more often.